1,411,778,724 (2020)

Official language




Time Zone


Dialling Code


Area (sq. miles)



$26.66 trillion (PPP)

Trade Associations

Publishers Association of China

Annual Book Fairs

Beijing International Book Fair is held annually at the China International Exhibition Centre.

Hong Kong Book Fair is held annually (usually in the middle of July) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair is held annually at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Centre.

1. China at a Glance

1.1 China in 2019

When Xi Jinping became China’s “Chairman of Everything” in 2012, he assumed the leadership of a country firmly on the ascendancy. During the prior 30 years of reform and opening, 800m people in China were lifted out of poverty – more than in any other time and place of human history, according to the World Bank. Yet years of endemic corruption coupled with a widening gap between the richest and the poorest saw Xi also inherit a nation where levels of discontent and frustration were high. His tasks: to deliver economic stability by ensuring GDP growth remained above 6.5%, and to shore up the position of Communist Party ideology at the centre of peoples’ lives.

In January 2019, in the teeth of a Sino-US trade war and a reported softening in domestic demand, China recorded annual GDP growth figures for 2018 of 6.7% – still within its necessary target range, but a clear signal that the rate of investment and spending in the country had cooled. Some analysts suggest GDP growth could fall to 6.2% by the end of 2019. Whether this signals a coming financial crisis, an inevitable slowdown, or something in between remains to be seen.

1.2 China’s book market

The value of China’s national retail market grew +11.3% in 2018 to RMB89.4bn (£10.2bn)¹, according to Beijing OpenBook, China’s main independent source of book data.² Sales through online bookstores grew +24.7% YOY in 2018 to RMB57.3bn (£6.5bn), while retail from bricks and mortar stores declined -6.69% to RMB32.1bn (£3.7bn). This one-year decline wiped out five years of slender growth in sales through physical stores brought about, in part, by government tax benefits to stimulate the sector.

1.3 Government overnight and censorship

Media and content in China is strictly monitored and regulated by a network of government bodies. In recent years publishing fell under the auspices of the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). Since the formal dissolution of the body in March 2018, the Propaganda Bureau took over the regulation of books and news media, albeit employing the previous related personnel and using the same organisational structure.

Local Publishing

Censorship in China operates on many levels. At its most basic, editors and publishers routinely self-censor acquisitions, as well as adjust translations and book edits based on perceptions of what is and isn’t permissible. In addition, government officials will call private meetings to update publishers on areas of short-term sensitivity and alert them to upcoming clampdowns. Formal written guidance is generally not available to foreign-owned entities from these closed-door sessions, and publishers must rely on their own networks and relationships for information.

Temporary clampdowns are regularly enacted during key political anniversaries or as part of campaigns aimed at addressing areas of social concern. The year 2019 has many sensitive dates, including the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic in October and the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tian’anmen Square Massacre in June.

The most visible recent clampdown affecting international publishers was the freeze on new ISBNs for children’s trade books in translation in early 2017; other clampdowns have targeted content related to recent history, ethnic minority culture, fantasy, homosexuality, and religion.

Chinese publishers apply annually for an allocation of ISBNs. While publishers submit book titles, author names, and genres for the year ahead, in practice the authorities will not crawl over lists book-by-book, and ISBNs may be switched around as necessary according to variances in publishing schedules.

Titles likely to attract significant attention, such as those from major international political or business figures, or those directly addressing subjects concerning Chinese social and political history, will be submitted for approval ahead of publication, and the authorities will require detailed line changes. Failure to make the required changes will mean print approval is withheld. State-owned publishers are unwilling to risk the consequences of publishing an unauthorized book. These start with fines, and can escalate up to the loss of business operating licenses and prison sentences. The public “banning” of books is rare in China, but withdrawal of reprint approval of backlist titles does happen regularly and during periodic category clampdowns.

Editors and publishers in China report certain trade publishing houses being given up to 25% fewer ISBNs in 2018, and insiders suggest that a further cut is likely for 2019. The official reason is to focus on the quality rather than quantity of publishing, although a by-product is increased conservatism in title and author selection by publishers and a consolidation of power in the hands of an ever-smaller group of companies.

The state-owned publisher will be held politically and commercially liable for any problematic content published under their ISBN, whether or not it was published in partnership with a private culture company. This puts the ultimate burden of censorship firmly on the shoulders of the state-owned entity.

Imported Foreign Language Books

Books under overseas ISBNs must enter China through one of approximately 40 state-owned import agencies. Importers serve a dual purpose, in equal parts political filters and for-profit distribution businesses. As with local publishing, there is no public list of banned books, nor a formal appeals process for a book denied importation. Refusal of a title by one importer does not automatically mean another importer will refuse it.

Lists of banned and sensitive words will be informally circulated among import agencies. These lists are subject to change without notice. Audio and e-books under foreign ISBNs must undergo the same “import” process, and must be supplied to third party retailers via an approved state-owned importer with an e-book sales remit (see section 6). The rule of thumb is that anything addressing the “three Ts” – Tibet, Taiwan, and Tian’anmen – cannot be imported; added to that in recent years are mentions of Chinese leaders, living or dead, often regardless of whether that reference be positive, negative, or benign. Maps must be drawn to reflect the Beijing government’s view on key borders, including the Line of Actual Control between China and India, and the textual designation of Taiwan as a province not a country (although fudging the question by not labelling Taiwan is generally ok).

2. Trade Publishing

A total of 203,000 new titles were published in China in 2018, with the annual total of new title releases across the market roughly flat since 2012. According to official statistics, children’s books became the largest category in 2016, and in 2018 they accounted for one quarter of the total book sales market, pushing education (textbooks and supplementary materials) into second place, and social sciences in third.

For new works published in 2018, education was the largest category, followed by economics, business management, literature, social science, and children’s, suggesting that the recent reductions in new ISBNs have specifically targeted trade publishers rather than education. The long-tail sales cycle of contemporary classics in fiction and children’s publishing may also contribute to a reduction in new acquisitions and publications (see below).

2.1 Fiction Bestsellers 2018

In 2018, eight of the top ten fiction titles for the year were published ten or more years ago; six were first published more than 30 years ago. Industry insiders and authors suggest that ever-tighter censorship is largely responsible for an absence of new popular fiction genres or authors. In addition, government pressure to reduce the numbers of new ISBNs issued each year to certain publishers has seen new title acquisitions consolidated into a shrinking group of publishers who are reluctant to risk news voice or genre.

Four of the top ten fiction titles for 2018 were works in translation.

Useful Contacts

British Council

Note: Offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing
Cultural and Education Section, British Embassy, 4/F Landmark Building Tower 1, 8 North Third Ring Road East, Beijing 100004 北京朝阳区东三环北路8号亮马河办公楼1座4层英国大使馆文化教育处100004
Email: www.britishcouncil.cn/en/contact

China-Britain Business Council
The British Centre, Room 1001 China Life Tower, 16 Chaowai Avenue, Beijing 北京市朝阳区朝阳门外大街16号中国人寿大厦1001室英国贸易协会北京代表处
Email: enquiries-beijing@cbbc.org.cn

Department for International Trade

British Embassy, 11 Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang, Beijing 100600 北京市朝阳区光华路11号英国大使馆
Email: Commercialmail.beijing@fco.gov.uk


Selected book publishers (trade and education)

  • 21st Century Publishing二十一世纪出版集团
    75 Zi’an Road, Nanchang, Jiangxi 江西省南昌市子安路75号
    Email: rights@21cccc.com
  • Beijing United Publishing 北京联合出版有限责任公司
    9/F, Block B, Desheng International Centre, 83 Dewai St, Xicheng, Beijing 西城区德外大街83号德胜国际中心B座9层
    Email: bjlhcb@sina.com
  • Beijing World Publishing 世界图书出版有限责任公司
    137 Chaonei Street, Dongcheng, Beijing 北京市东城区朝内大街137号
    Email: zhangyueeuy@sina.com
  • China Architecture and Building Press中国建筑工业出版社
    Room 1006, 9 Sanlihe Road, Wanlizhuang, Beijing 北京市百万庄三里河路9号1006室
    Email: ydn@cabp.com.cn
  • China Machine Press机械工业出版社
    22 Mianzhuang Street, Xicheng District, Beijing北京市西城区百万庄大街22号
    Email: cmpedu@cmpedu.com
  • CITIC Press 中信出版社
    10/F, Block 2, Fusheng Building, Huixin East Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 北京市朝阳区惠新东街甲4号富盛大厦2座10层
    Email: author@citicpub.com
  • Commercial Press商务印书馆
    36 Wangfujing Dajie, Beijing北京市王府井大街36号
    Email: cpinter@public3.bta.net.cn
  • CS Booky中南博集天卷传媒文化有限公司
    8/F, Block B, Wangjing Rongke Centre, Chaoyang, Beijing北京市朝阳区望京融科中心B座8层
    Email: jiaoliu@booky.com.cn
  • East China Normal University Press 华东师范大学出版社有限公司
    3663 Zhongshan North Road, Putuo, Shanghai 上海市普陀区中山北路3663号,华东师范大学校内,先锋路口
    Email: vihorae@gmail.com
  • Encyclopedia of China Publishing 中国大百科出版社
    17 Fuchengmen North Street, Xicheng, Beijing 北京市西城区阜成门北大街17号
    Email: scyx_dbk@163.com
  • Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press (FLTRP)外语教学与研究出版社
    FLTRP Building, 19 West Third Ring Road, Haidian, Beijing 北京市海淀区西三环北路19号外研社大厦
    Email: banquan@fltrp.com
  • Jieli Publishing House接力出版社
    C401 Meihui Building, 58 Dongzhong Road, Dongcheng, Beijing北京市东城区东中路58号美惠大厦C401室
    Email: jielitougao1@jielibook.com
  • People’s Publishing House人民出版社
    Jinlongji Building, 99 Longfusi Street, Dongcheng, Beijing 北京市东城区隆福寺街99号金隆基大厦
    Email: zjrms@sina.com
  • People’s Literature Publishing House人民文学出版社
    166 Chaonei Dajie, Dongcheng, Beijing 北京市东城区朝内大街166号
    Email: renminwenxue@cp.com.cn
  • Post & Telecom Press 人民邮电出版社
    514, Block A. Xizhaosi Street, Dongcheng, Beijing北京市东城区夕照寺街14号(A座)514室
    Email: contact@epubit.com.cn
  • Publishing House of Electronics Industry电子工业出版社
    Huaxin Building, 288 Jinjia Village South Exit, Wanshou Road, Haidian, Beijing北京市海淀区万寿路南口金家村288号华信大厦
    Email: support@phei.com.cn
  • Qingdao Publishing House 青岛出版社
    182 Hai’er Road, Laoshan, Qingdao, Shandong 山东省青岛市崂山区海尔路182号
    Email: qdpublishing@foxmail.com
  • Shanghai Translation Publishing House 上海译文出版社
    1703, 193 Fujian Middle Road, Shanghai 上海市福建中路193号1703室
    Email: info@yiwen.com.cn
  • Social Sciences Academic Press (SSAP)社会科学文献出版社
    1507 Block A, Hualong Building, 29 North Third Ring Road, Xicheng, Beijing 北京市西城区北三环中路甲29号华龙大厦A座15层1507室
    Email: ssapcopyright@ssap.cn
  • Tomorrow Publishing House 明天出版社
    39 Shengli Street, Jingjiu Road, Jinan City, Shandong 山东省济南市经九路胜利大街39号
    Email: tomorrowpub@live.cn
  • Tsinghua University Press 清华大学出版社有限公司
    405B, Building B, Xueyan Building, Shuangqing Road, Haidian, Beijing 北京市海淀区双清路学研大厦B座405B室
    Email: contactlx@163.com
  • Zhejiang Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House 浙江少年儿童出版社
    40 Tianmushan Road, Hangzhou 中国杭州天目山路40号
    Email: zjcb@zjcb.com
  • Zhonghua Publishing 中华书局
    38 Taiping Qiao Xi Li, Fengtai, Beijing 北京市丰台区太平桥西里38号
    Email: faxing@zhbc.com.cn